The U.S. military's team hunting for banned weapons in Iraq is getting ready to leave the country, their confidence of ever finding illicit stockpiles of biological or chemical arms shattered after seven weeks of fruitless searches.The 75th Exploitation Task Force "consistently found targets identified by Washington to be inaccurate, looted and burned, or both," the Washington Post reports. And "some information known in Washington, such as inventories of nuclear sites under supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, did not reach the (75th's) teams."
Task Force 75's experience, and its impending dissolution after seven weeks in action, square poorly with assertions in Washington that the search has barely begun.In his declaration of victory aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, President Bush said, "We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated." Stephen A. Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday that U.S. forces had surveyed only 70 of the roughly 600 potential weapons facilities on the "integrated master site list" prepared by U.S. intelligence agencies before the war.But here on the front lines of the search, the focus is on a smaller number of high-priority sites, and the results are uniformly disappointing, participants said."Why are we doing any planned targets?" Army Chief Warrant Officer Richard L. Gonzales, leader of Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, said in disgust to a colleague during last Sunday's nightly report of weapons sites and survey results. "Answer me that. We know they're empty.""Am I convinced that what we did in this fight was viable? I tell you from the bottom of my heart: We stopped Saddam Hussein in his WMD programs," Col. Richard McPhee said, using the abbreviation for weapons of mass destruction. "Do I know where they are? I wish I did . . . but we will find them. Or not. I don't know. I'm being honest here."